reviewed by MC5, February 2, 2003
Many of the big book review pundits tried to drag this book into the category of mediocrity. We at MIM are glad that an author of Gore Vidal's stature put out this book. Simply because he wrote it, it will be available everywhere. The critics did not like it because it was too raw, but what Gore Vidal is saying is just what Amerikkkans need to start confronting.
President G. W. Bush said about the people conducting terrorism against the united $tates: "They hate our freedoms, our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."(p. 5) Gore Vidal did not point out the united $tates is the country with the highest percentage of people in prison on the planet; nor could he point to MIM's archive of documents from censors, because it did not exist yet when Vidal wrote the book. Howard Zinn in his book "Terrorism and War" said, "Sweden is not worrying about terrorists. Denmark, Holland, New Zealand." So one could wonder if Bush meant to say that the united $tates and its most gung-ho allies are the only "free" countries.
Gore Vidal did not mention any of that, but he told the Amerikan public exactly what it really needed to know--that this war did not start yesterday and the united $tates started it, whether the public knew it or not. It took Vidal 20 pages of tables to list all the attacks Uncle $am has carried out since World War II: "In these several hundred wars against Communism, terrorism, drugs, or sometimes nothing much, between Pearl Harbor and Tuesday, September 11, 2001, we tended to strike the first blow. But then we're the good guys, right? Right."(p. 40)
The problem with the Amerikan public is that it does not want to pay attention to politics, but it wants to condemn attacks on Amerikans when in fact, as Vidal points out, the situation is usually a "counter-attack," not an attack. Far from attacking "freedom," the opponents are defending themselves, whether in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America or Asia.
Yet the people who do not want to know why attacks have taken place or what generates them are not serious about ending them. Simple moral fulminations devoid of context or understanding have never solved a problem. If so, the churches would have succeeded in bringing Heaven to earth a long time ago. The naive call us "traitors" for saying so, and we say we are tired of living under threat of death from terrorism, war and the fascism they provoke, because the apathetic or greedy don't want to address political problems seriously.
Most of the book actually explores the Timothy McVeigh saga and how Clinton was killing civil liberties before Bush and the "Patriot Act." For many people of the world, the majority of the book may seem a trifle boring, because it deals with the origins of the united $tates and the theory behind how the public could keep its government accountable.
Gore Vidal is one of the few people around who still understands the original intent and frame of mind of the founding revolutionaries of the united $tates. They believed that with everyone armed or potentially armed equally with the government, the government officials would not be inclined to take advantage of their power. Even if such officials were totally corrupt and inclined to be despotic for one reason or another, the power of an armed citizenry would offset them. The arming of the citizenry would force all concerned to work out a solution to underlying problems instead of victimizing civil liberties and engaging in war--so thought the American revolutionaries of 1776. The connection between guns and political power was so clear in their minds that they suspected those government officials who wanted a standing army wanted it to deprive the citizenship of its liberties. We can just imagine what the American Revolutionaries of 1776 would say about a military so huge that it cost 9 digits a year for decades at a time and conducts so many attacks that u.$. citizens cannot even keep track of it all.
When Timothy McVeigh carried out the bombing of an Oklahoma federal building, he was taking the "American Revolution" seriously and waging a "counter-attack"(p. 100) to offset the killing by the federal government of 82 religious sect members at Waco in April 1993. Exactly two years later, McVeigh killed 168 people by blowing up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma. The reason the public was to have the right to bear arms was to prevent Waco situations from developing, so reasoning strictly within bourgeois Liberal limits, McVeigh concluded that only a counter-attack would prevent future attacks on liberties by the federal government. For that matter, McVeigh also raised doubts about his role in the Gulf War attacking innocent people. He realized that the federal government was out-of-control globally, not just nationally. Speaking the federal government's own language, he called the suffering of children in the Murrah Building "collateral damage," a new phrase he learned from the Pentagon during the Gulf War.
Instead of concluding the federal government should back off from the public, the Los Angeles Times polled and found 58% willing to sacrifice liberties to end terrorism.(p. 116) Gore Vidal is one who understands that the U.$. political system was not meant to work that way, and in fact cannot work that way. There is a big connection amongst war, government dishonesty and civil liberties.
The politically naive say, "if you have nothing to hide, why should you fear giving up your privacy (and other civil liberties)." What these people do not understand is that civil liberties protect against corrupt and dishonest people in government. It is not a question of hiding something. It's a matter of preventing government-sponsored terrorism. It is a matter of not trusting the government and giving it unaccountable power. This was at the core of the racist, white founding fathers' philosophy having suffered the oppression of a tyrannic government. And despite the slavery and genocide against the First Nations rampant at the time, MIM would say that that idea is still more advanced than what we hear today about the need to sacrifice freedom for safety. The founding fathers had a "theory" of how to keep government under control of the people. We at MIM do not think that theory is exactly right, but we recognize and share concern for the question that drove that theory. Most of what we hear today on the subject is pure emotion driven by fascist agitators in the media and government.
A system of civil liberties cannot survive when people refuse to look at the causes of social problems. When social disunity is not addressed at the root, there is no hope for real society-wide civil liberties. People like Gore Vidal say that we should harken back to Amerikans' original values. MIM would say no capitalist system ever created the conditions for civil liberties. Instead, the rulers such as Bush use rhetoric about civil liberties to justify war. That's why there is a constant cycle alternating between more freedom and more fascism--with the Third World getting most of the fascism. Currently the pendulum swings toward fascism even inside the united $tates, because the public refuses to address underlying problems.
It goes without saying that if Amerikkkans cannot understand why they don't want Uncle $am spying on them, sending tanks to people's houses or bombing entire neighborhoods as in the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia, they will not understand why people in the Third World also strike back against Amerikkka. This may be why Gore Vidal has latched on to the Timothy McVeigh case and the related questions of civil liberties.
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